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Topic: Redemption or The Big Second-Chance

We had a run of “If You Like Posts” by Dear Author readers. It is a great series and one day, reader Laura emailed me and asked if we had done one for Redemption stories. We had not. I said to her that she should write one for us and she did. Back in December. So I apologize to Laura for waiting for so long to post this. I love the redemption story and I am so grateful that Laura wrote up this post as a launching pad for a great trope.

*****

The idea of making a big mistake or series of mistakes and finding happiness and fulfillment, despite the mistakes, is an alluring idea. We've all done things we regret or made errors that were seemingly unfixable, but I think everyone likes the idea that it is possible to come full circle, to make things right.

Book examples:

Examples from favorite books:
In Persuasion, one of my favorite examples of this type of novel, Anne Elliot is persuaded to make the logical decision not to marry the penniless (at the time) Fredrick Wentworth. Finding each other years later, Anne realizes her feelings for Fredrick have not changed, but he doesn't want to be rejected by Anne again. In the end, they find their way back to each other despite the obstacles raised by Anne's family and friends.

In Barely a Lady, Jack has divorced Olivia. Being divorced puts Grace in disgrace, unable to earn a living when employers learn about her past. Olivia is reunited with Jack after they haven't seen each other for several years. Jack is experiencing amnesia and believes he's still married to Olivia. Jack's recovery from the amnesia allows him to process the falsehoods that led him to divorce Olivia. Jack and Olivia make painful steps to rebuild their relationship to make their happy ending.

In Ain't She Sweet, Sugar Beth Carey is a popular, wealthy, and hellish teenager, tormenting most of her small southern hometown. She wields enough influence to get her high school English teacher, Colin Byrne, wrongfully fired for sexual harassment. After more than a decade away from home, Sugar Beth returns a changed woman. Her past victims aren't much interested in her beyond revenge. Sugar Beth pays her dues, to some degree, and finds her happily ever after with Colin.

Settings: It doesn't really matter where or when the story happens, the characters and their conflict resolution are what makes the story.

Heroine/Hero Type: Strong, only strong heroines and heroes can make the painful steps necessary come back from whatever mess they've made of their lives.

Plot (action-oriented / character-driven): Character-driven

Writing style (simple v. ornate): Simple

Dialogue (lots/little/balanced): Balanced, most of these stories really need dialogue between the characters to work through problems. However, internal dialogue is also hugely important to understanding the characters.

Humor (Yes/No-serious/some): Humor can be effective depending on the story, but isn't necessary in all cases.

Emotional Angst (high/medium/low): Variable, sometimes an angsty read hits the spot.

Conflict (externally driven/internally driven/both): Both, there has to be conflict between the hero and heroine along with internal conflict to make the story interesting. Often, the hero and heroine have their own issues that need to be worked through before they can repair their relationship.

Heat level: (kisses/warm/hot/scorching): Variable, having copious amounts of super-heated sex does not magically cure a diseased relationship. On the other hand, the physical aspect of a relationship can't be ignored completely or the story is not true to the characters. I think everyone has read a book or two where one of the characters tries to sex the other back in line with what they want. That would be an example of faulty conflict resolution.

What are some of your favorite redemption stories?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

32 Comments

  1. Janine
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 06:40:34

    My favorite redemption story in the genre is Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold. It really takes you to the brink where you feel the anti-hero who starts out as more of a villain than hero, has gone beyond the point of no return. But he does turn around, and for me at least that story packs such a powerful punch.

    Back in 2009, we posted our Top 100 Romances, and To Have and to Hold topped the list.

    I don’t know that I agree that such books require a simple writing style. To Have and to Hold has an elegant style rich with metaphors and haunting imagery that suits that story perfectly.

    Some other redemption stories I loved:

    For My Lady’s Heart (for its secondary storyline) and Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

    Uncommon Vows by Mary Jo Putney

    A Candle in the Dark and Fall from Grace by Megan Chance

    Indiscreet and Dancing with Clara by Mary Balogh

    And I’m sure there are some good ones I’m forgetting.

    Redemption is one of my favorite tropes but sadly, it seems to have gone out of style in recent years. I can’t think of many recent redemption stories.

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  2. Rachel Randall
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 07:30:18

    I’d count “The Rake” (aka “The Rake and The Reformer”) by Mary Jo Putney in there as one of my favs. It’s a redemption story where the hero battles his demons of alcoholism and crippling cynicism to find something in himself worth saving. The heroine, too, is a well-drawn contradiction in great self-belief yet poor self-esteem. It’s a lovely redemption romance between two strong personalities who help each other be better people.

    Nice to see “Ain’t It Sweet” mentioned! My favourite SEP!

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  3. helen
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 08:02:26

    I think Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is the greatest redemption book of all time. Mostly because it is the heroine rather than the hero who mucks everything up. It was a unique twist and excellent to boot. At the time I read it I had no idea it had been written as Christian fiction, which as a matter of course I am not a fan of, but this book was a genre beater for me. Loved it and have read it several times.

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  4. Suzanne
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 09:45:27

    I think Scandal by Carolyn Jewel would be considered a redemption story…and I loved it. I really like that story line, but not if it all has to do with the big misunderstanding…I like it when there truly is a mistake made and there are consequences and real forgiveness involved. Doesn’t Pride & Prejudice fall into this as well? Darcy ruins Jane’s chance for happiness w/Mr. Bingley, but redeems himself by bringing Bingley back to Jane because he loves Elizabeth and must make amends…and he also takes care of the Mr. Wickham/Lydia situation, for Elizabeth, as well. Gotta love Darcy.

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  5. cecilia250
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 10:22:31

    One of my favourite redemption stories is Balogh’s The Notorious Rake. She has a few that come in this category, I think, but that’s one of my favourites.

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  6. jayhjay
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 10:28:11

    How about Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley? The h/h break up early due to his alcoholism and general inability to function as a decent husband. He gets his life back together and they are eventually able to rekindle their romance. So good (the first book as well!).

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  7. hapax
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 11:09:52

    Oooh. I love this trope.

    THE DEDICATED VILLAIN, by Patricia Veryan. Roly isn’t just the villain of the book, but of the whole six-volume series, and he pays for the despicable things he’s done — but you end up cheering for his HEA anyways.

    Lots of Loretta Chase’s books play with this theme. CAPTIVES OF THE NIGHT is probably the purest example.

    And sheesh, does Anne Stuart right anything *else*? BLACK ICE is probably my favorite of her books.

    There’s a lot of these in the m/m genre. Jane Seville’s ZERO AT THE BONE deserved the rave reviews, for giving us a “hero” who had a lot more to redeem than most.

    Looking forward to see what others come up with!

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  8. DM
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 13:13:02

    To Have and To Hold is a really powerful book. Ditto the MJP titles mentioned. I’d second The Rake and Uncommon Vows and add MJP’s Dearly Beloved to the list.

    I think your description of the category, however, misses something vital about these books, and the reason that, as Janine points out, we see so few of these titles in stores today. These are high stakes stories. Very often terrible things happen to the main characters in these books–either the catalyst that creates their fatal flaw–or the catastrophe that triggers their redeeming transformation.

    And while books like this are often breakout titles, remembered long after they go out of print, the prevailing wisdom says women don’t like stories like this. Women like “nice” stories. Another review up on Dearauthor right now has this to say:

    I read the first bunch of pages, learned that a child's life is horribly ruined and I had to stop reading. Since becoming a mother I have a very hard time reading about violence against children. In the prologue to Devil's Own Aidan is kidnapped from his home and put aboard a ship. I have a son not too much younger than the ten-year-old fictional Aidan.

    Of course romance readership is extraordinarily diverse, and one gal’s cup of tea is another gal’s poison, but I read this description and thought, what a great hook! What happens next? But cautious editors, whose job is to choose titles that appeal to the widest possible audience, often think otherwise these days. I suspect Anne Stuart’s Reckless–a harrowing but compelling read–would have been a tough sell from a less established author.

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  9. JB Hunt
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 13:42:46

    Another Loretta Chase to mention — Your Scandalous Ways — which Jane called “positive and uplifting and beautifully reaffirming of love” in her review on Dear Author.

    Both Francesca and James are looking for redemption, and of course, the beautiful thing is that they find it together. And in Venice!!

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  10. Annette
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 13:51:45

    @ DM

    What thought-provoking comments you’ve made. I love this discussion.

    Not sure, though, if the paucity of redemption romances in the stores is due to the terrible things which must happen to the characters. I’ve seen terribly (wonderfully? :) ) angsty stories on favorites list after favorites list. Some of the best known romance authors write stories filled with darkness and depth and tragedy (Kinsale anyone?). Just one tiny example is Gabaldon – a multitude of awful things happen to both protagonists in Outlander, yet look at its enduring popularity.

    I tend to think the reason for lack of these is more that these stories are damned hard to write. The high stakes must be believable and gut-wrenching, yet not impossible to overcome. The pairing up must be a match perfectly constructed not only for the healing to occur but for the love to bloom true enough for a HEA, and the redemptive transformation must be utterly convincing in all of its subtleties and baby steps in the right direction, from first to last, not only in terms of the character going through the redemption but also for the romantic partner. What a challenge. It’s one thing to have a character find redemption through non-romantic paths, but once a writer decides that romance is the route, then it seems to me the problem becomes twice as hard. And all of this must strike the perfect balance of deep feeling and drama, yet not tip into melodrama. (Or at least not too far into melodrama ;))

    I say this from the perspective of someone who is currently writing a historical novel with a strong thread of redemption throughout. I plan to write a genre romance next, in the same place/time (ancient Sparta) where redemption is the soul of the book. I’m only in the musing/early planning stages of that romance, but it promises to be my biggest characterization challenge yet, without a doubt.

    And lastly, to throw what is perhaps a more controversial thought out there – maybe there are fewer redemption stories today because of the rise of moral relativism? I’m middle aged, and I do think it’s obvious that today’s climate seems uncomfortable judging or calling something wrong compared with decades past. And without recognizing moral failure, how can there be guilt or a burning need to atone? The culture in which I’m writing that I mentioned above has such a black and white view of certain moral and social responsibilities, that I think it will actually be very helpful to me. This is all so fascinatingly complex.

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  11. library addict
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 13:54:23

    I enjoy redemption stories when the couple takes the time to work through what caused the separation to begin with and learn to communicate with one another so I can believe the HEA will work this time around.

    Some of my favorites:

    The Darkest Hour by Maya Banks
    Mind Over Marriage by Rebecca Daniels
    That Same Old Feeling by Judith Duncan
    To the Brink by Cindy Gerard
    Just Like Old Times by Jennifer Greene
    The Farrell Marriage by Dee Holmes
    Crossfire by Naomi Horton
    Stolen Dreams by Lee Magner
    In a Stranger's Eyes by Doreen Roberts
    Birthright and Key of Knowledge by Nora Roberts
    Marrying Mike…Again by Alicia Scott
    Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey
    Run to the Moon by Sandy Steen

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  12. DM
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 14:25:37

    @Annette

    I agree with you. These are very, very tricky stories to write. And I think you are correct. Fewer of them are written, precisely because they are so tough to do well. And that may also be the reason why the great ones are so memorable–they have to be so damned good to work!

    But I think Kinsale, Gabaldon, and most of the writers who turn up on favorite redemption story lists (Stuart, MJP, Gaffney etc), broke into the genre more than a decade ago. Most of them two decades ago. A lot of them appeared when “old skool” historicals were still in vogue. So the terrible things that happened to the protagonists weren’t out of keeping with other books on the market. But I do believe that nowadays, with the “Avonization” of romance (and while I think that term is overused, it is handy–we see far more ballrooms and barouches than we used to in single titles) childhood trauma is something publishers are wary of. They see it as a risk. For both the reasons cited by Jaclyn in her review of Devil’s Own, and I believe for another, subtler reason, to do with the recent history of the genre.

    High stakes stories, particularly in historicals, are still tarred with the “old skool” brush. Which is a shame, because while Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold might have some content in common with say, one of Rosemary’s Rogers’ works, the intent, execution, and ultimate message of her works is utterly different. And this skittishness on the part of publishers is, I believe, an over-reaction, because when what I think of as “faux skool” romances (books with the sweep, scale, and stakes of an old skool but without the slut-shaming and rape-standing-in-for-consensual-sex) like Meredith Duran’s Duke of Shadows come out, they are usually big hits.

    But I am very intrigued by how changing morals affect books in this category. Would To Have and To Hold, if published today, when BDSM erotica is such a significant portion of the erotic romance market, have used the same type of villain for the heroine’s backstory? It is difficult to say. But perhaps it is this changing morality that has forced today’s redemption romances down the path of child abuse for their backstories. Anne Stuart’s Reckless uses precisely this horror to mold the heroine’s character. And I found it very effective. But when I read THATH today, while the redemption of the hero and the recovery of the heroine remain powerful, the heroine’s backstory always seems a bit off, because there are plenty of books out now in which the sexual acts her husband used to demean her take place between consenting and committed adults. It is only when we learn that he was abusing someone else (trying to avoid spoiling the book here) that his villainy feels compelling to me now.

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  13. Jen X
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 15:33:59

    One Fine Day by Theresa Weir

    One heck of a redemption story. This is not a fun, whimsical romp. I felt like a voyeur in a real marriage that fell apart.

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  14. Kay Sisk
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 16:46:41

    Yes, yes, yes on Putney’s The Rake and the Reformer, which I managed to find in an early edition pb. And Rivers’ Redeeming Love, which I own in two original (not the re-edited) paperbacks, so I can keep one and loan one to lure a hesitant reader to romance.

    Loving redemption stories may account for why most of what I’ve written have been such!

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  15. Janine
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 19:04:38

    @Annette & @DM:

    Fascinating discussion of redemption romances and why they are so scarce on the ground these days. My WIP is also a redemption romance and yes, they are damn hard to write well. I love the challenge of it though, and I love to read them, so I hope more writers attempt it. Both as a reader and as a writer, I would love to see the redemption story make a big comeback. With any luck this thread will be a harbinger of things to come!

    In the 1990s books like Gaffney’s, Putney’s and others mentioned here often had the hero either raping the heroine or holding her captive, and I don’t think that would fly with many readers today. So I think writers may have to be more creative when it comes to the wrong that a character must atone for. It’s tricky, because a big conflict requires a serious wrong, but I thing a tough challenge like that can spur creative thinking and great writing.

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  16. Grow
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 20:16:42

    I definitely agree on The Rake and the Reformer; find it in the original Signet – way better than the rewrite. Also love Dearly Beloved and The Would-Be Widow (also better in the original than the rewritten The Bargain). Add to that Silk and Secrets, where it’s the heroine who’s carrying the load for the separation. I feel a reread coming on! ;)

    Also agree on Weir’s One Fine Day. Man, talk about a tough story, but so good!

    Nobody’s mentioned Paula Detmer Riggs yet. Unless I’m forgetting a book here or there, every single one of her titles, be the SIM, SD or single titles, has a redemption story line. I miss her and I wish she’d write again!

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  17. Kaetrin
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 21:13:09

    There was that Mary Jo Putney contemp where the hero had been abusive – I think it was called the Burning Point but I may have that wrong. I understand that other readers didn’t think the hero had redeemed himself by the end, but I really liked the book and bought the HEA (how much that had to do with the fact that I’ve had barely any experience (and none personally) with spousal abuse I can’t say).

    I second the nomination for Balogh’s The Notorious Rake – what an excellent book!

    I’d add Sherry Thomas’s books – Delicious, Private Arrangements and Not Quite a Husband – they are all stories about separated lovers who make their way back to each other.

    River’s Redeeming Love was a great book too.

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  18. DM
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 21:27:36

    @ Janine

    In the 1990s books like Gaffney's, Putney's and others mentioned here often had the hero either raping the heroine or holding her captive, and I don't think that would fly with many readers today.

    I agree that rape as a substitute for consensual sex has largely disappeared from romance because readers no longer tolerate it. The days when good girl heroines couldn’t initiate or consent to sex without shame are thankfully over.

    But I think that rape functions very differently in Gaffney, Putney et al. Old Skool boddice rippers are littered with rape scenes that can be changed out for consensual sex scenes with no impact on the plot. In Gaffney, Putney et al, rape is recognized as a serious crime against the heroine. It is often the act for which the hero must redeem himself. It is never normalized as an acceptable sexual act.

    I can think of two recent titles in which rape functioned this way. Anna Campbell’s Claiming The Courtesan and Anne Stuart’s Ruthless. Both sold well. So I’m not convinced that readers won’t tolerate rape in romance, any more than they won’t tolerate children in peril, murder, or domestic abuse, to name only a few plot elements that are sometimes labeled unmarketable. I think the truth is that romance readers will embrace a good story well told, but that editors are perhaps justifiably skittish about these plot elements.

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  19. Isabel Cooper
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 06:42:33

    I personally wouldn’t read redemption plots centered around rape or abuse–I don’t believe that people who do those things are redeemable, in any significant way, and certainly not that they should be with the person they did said things to. Personal taste thing there–I can’t suspend my disbelief/loathing long enough to care about the redemption arc.

    For other things, particularly when there are outside circumstances involved, I can quite like redemption stories. And I agree with Suzanne that Pride and Prejudice qualifies.

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  20. Janine
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 14:11:56

    @DM: While I’m obviously open to a character like Sebastian in To Have and to Hold, I really think some readers aren’t.

    You’ve made a good point about Claiming the Courtesan and Ruthless. I don’t know the sales numbers on these books, but the authors are still writing, so that’s a positive indicator.

    Maybe the outcry on the internet surrounding books in this vein doesn’t speak for most people, I don’t know. Personally I feel more comfortable writing redemption stories that center around a different kind of wrong, but that may have just as much to do with the number of personal acquaintances I have who have been sexually assaulted.

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  21. JenM
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 14:49:01

    This is my favorite type of story and I wish there were more out there. It’s hard to find any where the lead character has done something truly heinous enough that the redemption has emotional heft and resonance. Unlike many readers, I don’t shy away from rape, or abuse. I do believe that if it’s handled skillfully by the writer, it’s possible to redeem such characters in a believable manner, and there’s usually lots of yummy angst going on while the redemption happens. I’m glad Barely A Lady was mentioned in the original post because that’s one of the few I’ve read recently where the hero really is reprehensible to the heroine, but I read many reviews that thought that the author had gone too far in that book.

    I would add Fallen From Grace by Laura Leone (out of print but just recently released in ebook format), where the hero is a male prostitute, and Dream a Little Dream, my favorite SEP, where the heroine was married to a fake preacher who swindled practically the whole town out of a lot of money. Oh and Death Angel by Linda Howard where the hero is an assassin who actually does attempt to kill the heroine.

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  22. DM
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 15:08:17

    @Isabel Cooper

    I personally wouldn't read redemption plots centered around rape or abuse-I don't believe that people who do those things are redeemable, in any significant way, and certainly not that they should be with the person they did said things to. Personal taste thing there-I can't suspend my disbelief/loathing long enough to care about the redemption arc.

    I felt exactly this way until I read Gaffney, Putney, and Stuart. I think that’s why their books made such an impression on me. They pulled it off and overcame my skepticism. But every reader has different thresholds for suspension of disbelief.

    @Janine

    I think the outcry over the internet about rape in romance deserves some analysis. While the market is no longer flooded with historicals that present rape as a normal part of courtship, it’s now awash in paranormals that do so. The same sites that mock old skool boddice rippers for their rapist heroes often celebrate similar characters, so long as they are vampires, werewolves, or other supernatural creatures. And the same sites that are regularly inundated with posts about the bad old days of rapey romance, often put Gaffney, Putney, and Stuart in their top 100 lists.

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  23. Sofia Harper
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 18:26:18

    Redemption, like any other popular trope, resonates because everyone believes (or wants to believe) in it. ‘It’ being forgiveness for themselves or for others. In other words there is nothing you can do that precludes you from unconditional love. Powerful statement and may be why there are so little stories where it’s the central focus.

    But, I think there are more redemption stories out there they just don’t have the melodrama of the classics.

    It's hard to find any where the lead character has done something truly heinous enough that the redemption has emotional heft and resonance.

    So, for me the question becomes what happened to the anti-hero/heroine? That is harder to find than a story containing a redemption like theme.

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  24. Janine
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 20:03:43

    @DM:

    I think the outcry over the internet about rape in romance deserves some analysis. While the market is no longer flooded with historicals that present rape as a normal part of courtship, it's now awash in paranormals that do so. The same sites that mock old skool boddice rippers for their rapist heroes often celebrate similar characters, so long as they are vampires, werewolves, or other supernatural creatures.

    That’s a great point and one that I was recently discussing with a friend. My friend brought it up and said she actually preferred a well-crafted redemption story to some of today’s popular paranormals in which the hero’s obsessive behavior isn’t addressed because it’s simply part of his vampire, werewolf or whatever-he-is nature.

    I do think that a lot of the popularity of paranormals has to do with the fact that they provide a more acceptable workaround for flawed characters and thus give readers a way to explore human flaws and the emotional riskiness relationships can have, or seem to have. The same function used to be served by old skool romances to some degree.

    But even the paranormal romance subgenre can sometimes feel like it’s playing it safe. For example vampires in romance almost never drain humans of their blood to the point of killing them, or turn others into vampires against their will, even though both those aspects have been present in vampire books outside the romance genre.

    And the same sites that are regularly inundated with posts about the bad old days of rapey romance, often put Gaffney, Putney, and Stuart in their top 100 lists.

    I can’t speak for other sites but I know that here at DA we all have different tastes and if you looked at that spreadsheet we linked to when we posted our Top 100 books, you would see how our opinions differ. For example in the case of the Gaffney book, I think several of us loved it but Jayne refuses to read it, which of course is her prerogative.

    I once saw a commenter on another blog complain that DA posted an opinion piece that took issue with rape in romance within the same week that a review said something more positive about the forced seduction trope. But the opinion piece was by one of us and the review was by another of us, so it was just an example of dissent among us.

    I think some people think we all have the same opinions on everything, but that is not the case. So when you say that the same sites that speak out against old skool books also rec books by Gaffney, Stuart, etc., I think you have to take into account that the contradiction may be the result of two (or more) different people’s different views.

    Anyhow, I would love to see more well-written redemption stories.

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  25. Janine
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 20:19:45

    @JenM: Interestingly, I didn’t see Leone’s Fallen from Grace (terrific book!) as a redemption story. I loved the book, but the hero was a good guy from the beginning, so it was just that he and the heroine had different values, rather than that he had done something “truly heinous,” in my view.

    @Sofia Harper:

    Redemption, like any other popular trope, resonates because everyone believes (or wants to believe) in it. ‘It' being forgiveness for themselves or for others. In other words there is nothing you can do that precludes you from unconditional love. Powerful statement and may be why there are so little stories where it's the central focus.

    I guess I see the redemption theme slightly differently. I would rephrase to “There is nothing you can do that you can’t atone for, if you try hard enough and are determined to do so. And if you do, you may even be rewarded with love.”

    I would definitely remove “unconditional” because the truth is, among healthy people no love except perhaps a young child’s dependency on a parent is unconditional. I don’t want to see a character who does something really bad to another character be forgiven unconditionally without having to work hard to prove that he or she had changed his behavior.

    I need to see the person being redeemed work his or her ass off (like Adrian in the second half of Putney’s Uncommon Vows), both to believe in the sincerity of his or her desire to change, and to believe the other party has enough self-esteem not to love someone without evidence to indicate that whatever this person’s past wrongs, he or she will not hurt them in the future.

    So, for me the question becomes what happened to the anti-hero/heroine? That is harder to find than a story containing a redemption like theme.

    That is an excellent question. I don’t have an answer for it but maybe someone else will?

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  26. Kaetrin
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 22:16:57

    In Barely a Lady, Jack has divorced Olivia. Being divorced puts Grace in disgrace, unable to earn a living when employers learn about her past

    @ Jaclyn. Who is Grace? Is she the heroine or is it Olivia?

    BTW, thx for such an interesting post!

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  27. Kaetrin
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 22:26:54

    This is my favorite type of story and I wish there were more out there. It's hard to find any where the lead character has done something truly heinous enough that the redemption has emotional heft and resonance. Unlike many readers, I don't shy away from rape, or abuse. I do believe that if it's handled skillfully by the writer, it's possible to redeem such characters in a believable manner, and there's usually lots of yummy angst going on while the redemption happens.

    @ JenM Yes that! I love the angst – terrible things have to happen for the angst to work – I accept that means the h/h will have to suffer to get their HEA.

    Of course, everyone has their hot buttons and I realise that my tastes are not everyone’s. :)

    @DM I’ve agreed with a lot of what you’ve said here – THATH is a very different book to Sweet Savage Love!! (and aren’t we all grateful for that?). I’m not sure I follow your comments re BDSM though. BDSM only works when its… what do they say?… safe, sane and consensual (?)… I think that’s it. In Rachel’s case, what her first husband did to her was definitely without her willing participation.

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  28. FiaQ
    Mar 31, 2011 @ 06:01:59

    How about Suzanne Robinson’s medieval(? or Tudor?)-era historical romance, Lady Gallant? If I remember rightly, the heroine doesn’t forgive when the hero did something wrong (I can’t remember what) so he spends the rest of the story, redeeming himself while trying to win her back. My recollection might be wrong, though, as it’s been a while.

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  29. JenM
    Mar 31, 2011 @ 09:44:31

    @ Janine – The reason I see Fallen From Grace as a redemption story is that even though the hero is a good guy, many people just flat out refuse to read that story because he’s a prostitute. He has good reasons, for leading the life he lives, but I know that the author had a helluva time selling the book because of his profession. Plus, to make it even worse, he continues to practice his profession while falling in love with the heroine. Again, he has good reasons for doing so, but I’ve read many comments from readers who just flat out refuse to read a book where one of the leads is sleeping with other people, so I do see this as a redemption type of story.

    Hmm, maybe it should go in a different category – books with tropes that are considered unsellable. Could DA do a post on that? I know that I will read all kinds of things that many “traditional” romance readers flat out refuse to read. One of the reasons I’m happy about the self-pub explosion is that I’m finally getting to read romance books that push that envelope, or are considered “too dark”, something that the best redemption novels are often labeled.

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  30. DM
    Mar 31, 2011 @ 13:03:44

    @Kaetrin

    Re: THATH and bondage fiction.

    Yes, I agree, what Rachel’s husband did to her was definitely non-consensual. But it wasn’t just rape. It was rape with bdsm trappings, meant to make the rape particularly horrifying. And there was a time when romance villains were often associated with alternative sexuality. Gay villainy and bdsm villainy used to pop up regularly in historicals. And in the same way we’re no longer comfortable with the idea that being gay gives you a predilection for waxing your mustache and cackling maniacally, I wonder if we find bdsm villainy as convincing anymore.

    @Janine

    I think some people think we all have the same opinions on everything, but that is not the case. So when you say that the same sites that speak out against old skool books also rec books by Gaffney, Stuart, etc., I think you have to take into account that the contradiction may be the result of two (or more) different people's different views.

    You make a good point. Some of these contradictions are the result of multiple points of view. But some of them are also contradictions within individual readers. That’s why I think it’s wise to be cautious about making generalizations about what romance readers do and don’t want today.

    I think you also bring up an interesting point about paranormals. Many of them do pull their punches, offering up a sugar-coated supernatural world in which the heros are really, really badass…but of course they never actually hurt anybody but the bad guys, who are really, really, really bad. It does rather defang them. I haven’t found a really satisfying supernatural read in a very long time, and I have started to wonder if we aren’t in a boom period for paranormals equivalent to the early 80s for historicals. Lots of product, very little of it with any real psychological depth or capacity for catharsis. I know there are many beloved para series out there at the moment, but I haven’t heard anyone really extolling their depth or emotional impact–only their addictive aspects. It’s just a thought.

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  31. Kaetrin
    Mar 31, 2011 @ 16:39:58

    @ DM thx for clarifying :)

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  32. Kerith
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 11:41:18

    I know I am commenting late on the this post, but one of my favorite redeeming book is Sherry Thomas’ Not Quite a Husband. Normally I can not stand cheating, but this book makes my heart melt. I just want to hug both the hero and heroine in the end. I just love this book.

    Private Arrangements was also a great one, but I wish at the end Camden would have said simply he was staying no matter what happen in the future. Gigi’s determination to get what she wants is one of many things Cam loved about her. What if she does something else that he is not a fan of, is he going to leave agian? I didn’t need to see him grovel over this point, just a simply state of fact would do.

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